The federal government is asking the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to repay more than $5.3 million in disaster relief grants for not following all federal procurement standards when it awarded contracts for the work.
In a recently released audit the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General said the board did not follow all federal standards when contracting out work after storms in mid-2014 damaged parkland along West River Parkway, which was closed for more than two years. The Park Board received $8.4 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds, $5.1 million of which the board spent without following all guidelines, the audit found.
The board awarded nine contracts, including one for $1.3 million to repair the failed sloped above West River Parkway, without full and open competition for the work, according to the audit. Without advertising for proposals, the audit says, there’s no guarantee that small, minority-owned and/or women-owned businesses had an opportunity to bid, per federal regulation. The report also says the board awarded $1.4 million across eight contracts without performing a cost analysis, which decreases the risk of unreasonable costs and errors.
The Park Board said in a statement that it is working with FEMA officials to determine an appropriate course of action following the audit.
“The final report details that federal procurement standards were not fully followed. However, the Park Board did follow the City of Minneapolis’ procurement procedures, including oversight and approval by the City of Minneapolis’ Office of Civil Rights, which ensured that small and underutilized businesses were given the opportunity to bid on the project,” the statement said.
In a letter responding to the audit, Superintendent Jayne Miller said the slope failure required the Park Board to move quickly to protect the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview facility that overlooks West River Parkway. While the board failed in respect to some federal requirements, Miller wrote, it didn’t compromise the slope restoration.
“Important in this entire process from the [Park Board] perspective is that, as an agency, we responded to a unique and significant event following a major storm. It was not an everyday occurrence, but our need to take immediate action required us to rely on our standard processes and on guidance provided by the State of Minnesota,” she wrote.
The audit found fault with the state’s response as well, saying that it should have done more to ensure the Park Board was following federal standards. The Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General has requested the state to assist the board in spending $2.5 million in remaining disaster work funds according to the standards.